x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Lean economic times expose the weakness of wasta hiring

Organisations across the region are being obliged to restructure their businesses and strategies to prepare for predicted slowing growth rates in 2012.

For the UAE and the rest of the world, 2012 is looking more and more like a year of tight budgets, careful expenditures and cautious stewardship of resources.

Feeling the second wave of the financial crisis, companies are being forced to revisit their strategies and search for suitable ways forward to realise success, if not mere survival. Projects are being put on hold, job performances are being reviewed and, to put it bluntly, excess fat is being trimmed.

Undoubtedly, this is a difficult time for many professionals. It cannot be ignored that many jobs and lives are already being affected by the changing economic environment. It is a rough road ahead and we can only wish the best for those who will be affected the most.

However, every cloud has a silver lining. During these times of change and reflection, there are opportunities that begin to reveal themselves, allowing companies and managers to take time to review operations and take advantage of the storm. The challenges that we face today call for revising action plans, and turning a new page by identifying the mistakes of the past and the strengths going into the future.

Many decision-making, senior positions across government and the private sector have been filled through a process that a friend of mine eloquently describes as "social recruitment". Or, as we like to call it in the region, wasta.

Many expatriates and Emiratis who are fortunate enough to be a friend of friend, a cousin of an uncle, a sister of an acquaintance or simply someone with the same nationality or from the same tribe as a manager, have been able to win influential, remunerative positions, bypassing the entire recruitment process of hiring.

Nothing is more dangerous than recruiting individuals who are not up to the task, especially when the job involves making decisions that affect the entire community. And it is during the difficult times that we are currently facing that individuals' true colours will be shown. If people have been hired based on personal connections rather than qualifications, their shortcomings and lack of experience in their positions will be apparent in the coming year.

Once this becomes clear, the government and private sector will be in a good position to revamp the top management tier and recruit higher quality employees.

Along the same lines, there are professionals who have squirmed their way into the circle of trust of influential people in senior management positions. The most charitable explanation is that these people are calculating, although manipulative might also be an apt description. In some cases, this is actually a product of a sophisticated understanding of UAE culture.

The secret to this kind of success is quite simple: employees have discovered the easiest way into the heart of an Emirati boss is by demonstrating loyalty. In Emirati culture, loyalty is a highly valued trait, in many cases even more than actual personal contributions.

The result in some cases is that people with a complete lack of qualifications, creativity or any form of innovative thinking can become trusted advisers. They begin their careers by bending over backwards to prove their loyalty, knowing that one day they will be rewarded with trust of their superiors. People who have built careers in this way often are entrusted with authority that is too much for them, creating havoc and disruption in the workplace.

In difficult economic times, however, it is inevitable that these individuals will be exposed, allowing their organisations to move forward with fresh minds and new ideas.

Identifying excess baggage might also lead to difficult compromises that must be handled wisely to prevent the same problems from resurfacing. There is another consideration as organisations clean house in difficult times: by removing staff positions, we may increase the need for consultants, who may provide good service but whose motives are purely financial. The danger lies not in the expense but in the lack of commitment to knowledge transfer and retention of Emirati staff.

The growth of the country is directly related to the advancement of nationals in terms of skills, education and governance. Moving forward, the UAE should put more emphasis on knowledge-sharing in procedures, contracts and briefings for consultants and companies doing business here.

Organisations across the region are being obliged to restructure their businesses and strategies to prepare for predicted slowing growth rates in 2012.

This process of trimming waste is inevitable for many companies but rather than focusing entirely on crunching the numbers, now is the time for government and the private sector to review personnel and organisation structures. We need to seek out the best people who will not only provide the very best quality of services but also work to transfer knowledge and expertise to the people of the UAE.


Taryam Al Subaihi is an Emirati political and social commentator who specialises in corporate communications